What UNION is all about

UNION is a sector-based training programme for community artists and social activists across the north of England.




For many years our parent company, the community arts company and registered charity Heads Together Productions, has engaged in discussions about training within our own sector. Some of the young people we have worked with on the estates of East Leeds were really interested in doing this kind of work as a career and asked us what was the best route in. It felt ridiculous that we couldn’t really answer. We always imagined that someone else would set up the perfect pathway but it got to the point when we realised that we were pretty well positioned to take it on ourselves, especially as we had such good links in to both the arts and the community development/activism sectors.

We secured some initial funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to pilot the idea and some additional funds from the Arts Council of England. It was time to give it a go.

It began with a year-long pilot programme in 2019 for 20 early-career artists and activists across the north of England—UNION ’19. We continued to support that cohort when the pandemic hit and then created a new city-based programme—UNION Leeds. With further funding from both Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation UNION ’23 started in January 2023 with a new cohort and we are planning further cohorts in 2024 and 25.

So what to expect on a UNION programme?


We have learnt so much from developing UNION ’19 and UNION Leeds. Some of the core principles that we take forward into our work are as follows:

  • We create learning outside of people’s everyday working lives and provide a strong team of guides to support participants on their journey
  • Mixing up things creates learning: different places; different training inputs and styles; truly diverse groups
  • Asking questions is at the heart of our work
  • We take a holistic approach; not trying to separate the professional and the personal but encouraging each participant to consider their own needs—body; mind; heart; and spirit. To do that we must create an equitable and inclusive framework,  recognising individual needs within our groups
  • Co-designing our programmes means that we won’t know what will happen (the syllabus) before the group has formed. And that means true ownership of the programme and the ability to respond to the needs and desires of the group
  • We believe that a coaching approach is at the core of all our training and that includes one-to-one sessions alongside the group programme, actively encouraging each participant to define their own learning journey
  • Action learning is a key part of the learning process. All participants are involved with a range of projects through their own work, and the learning needs to include this real work as well as the potential for new collaborative learning projects initiated within UNION programmes.
  • When the programme finishes, the programme finishes! But we will provide opportunities for UNION alumni to keep connected with each other and with us. We will offer further opportunities for training, for coaching, and for action learning.

UNION poem by UNION Leeds participant Vic Leeson


I imagined placards
Made with industrial hoardings
Sawn by raised voices on
An East Leeds breeze
Anger, oppression, militant action
Fuelled by despondency
Disconnection, frustration
Raw caffeinated aggression
Primed for retaliation
Driven by a need
To be seen, to be active
To be believed
And for others to join our army

I wasn’t prepared for the attention
The inquiry, the curiosity, the safety
The connection
This foundation that was needed
But I hadn’t perceived as existing
With others we created questions inside
Activities centred on community and compassion
Together we acknowledged the permission
Not for achievement, but progression
Built with trust, values, ethical practice
And movement
Towards an identity of acceptance
That allowed us to march forward
With each evolutionary revolution

We are creative
We are humans
Brought together by understanding
We are now dancing passionately
With questions
Activism and placards
Laid quietly
Awaiting many moments.

Safeguarding Policy


We believe that everyone who takes part in UNION has a right to a life free from fear; to be treated with dignity and respect; to have their choices respected; and not to be forced to do anything against their will.

We believe that each person has a right to a life that maintains independence and enables them to make their own decisions and choices. We also understand that there will be cases where an individual may be unable to make their own decisions and/or to protect themselves or their assets.

We are committed to practice which protects children and vulnerable adults from harm. Staff and participants in this organisation accept and recognise their responsibilities to develop awareness of the issues which cause harm to children and vulnerable adults.

If you have any worries about safeguarding issues yourself or other participants disclose information to you, then please talk to a member of the UNION team so that we can take the appropriate course of action.

We will endeavour to safeguard children and vulnerable adults by:

  • Adopting safeguarding guidelines through procedures and a code of conduct for staff and participants
  • Sharing information about safeguarding and good practice with children, vulnerable adults, parents and carers, staff and participants
  • Sharing information about concerns with agencies who need to know, and involving parents, carers and children appropriately
  • Following carefully the procedures for recruitment and selection of staff and participants
  • Providing effective management for staff and participants through supervision, support and training

UNION’s full safeguarding policy can be downloaded here

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